Making the Lightning Mage Concept
By Arno Schmitz
Software used: Photoshop, Maya, mental ray
Making Of I am going to talk about the steps it took to go from initial
idea to final concept for my character, The Lightning Mage. This Making
Of will cover all steps leading up to the final 2D design and will not
talk about the creation of the final 3D model. However 3D will be used
to help us conceptualize our ideas more quickly and easily.
is to create a piece of concept art that you can use to create a 3D
model. It is kind of a pre-visualization tool on how you want the final
render to look. Important focus points are the shapes of the character,
the implied textures and the overall mood dictated by the lighting, not
the level of polish.
contrast my usual preference of making hulking, brute, warrior-type
characters, knights and other physically strong characters, I decided to
make a character that was physically not so strong but had very specific
magical abilities. My goal was to have lots of Asian influences in the
character because normally wizards are associated with the picture of an
old man complete with the pointy hat and the white beard.
initial idea was to make a character wearing bright robes with intricate
oriental patterns on it. The ability to cast lightning out of his palms
was a given because it is a nice visual effect and would require some
aggressive kung-fu type movement to make look convincing. The idea that
by casting this lightning he would inflict burn wounds upon his own
hands lead to the final design and the bandaged hands you can see in
almost all the images.
designing a new character it helps to ask some basic questions, this
will help you to pinpoint certain aspects of the character. At all times
this profile can be modified. But these are the initial questions and
answers I came up with for this particular character:
audience and medium?
The character is part of a mature role-playing game, in which you play
with a group of heroes, either in co-op mode or CPU controlled.
Q: Who is
your character? Is he/she important? Good or bad? Profession?
The character is a trained lightning wizard. He has completed a kind of
Buddhist training that allows him to be very calm and objective. The
character lives alone in a temple that harbors a sacred artifact. His
duty is to protect this artifact. When the playable character of the
game convinces him he needs this artifact he joins as an NPC to make
sure the artifact will not be miss-used.
kind of world does he/she live in?
The world resembles a medieval world with cultures similar to the Asian,
African and European ones we know. However there is a strong fantasy
element in this world that allows for magic and wizards and exotic
wildlife to exist. This world is under threat by demons that want to
plunge it into eternal chaos.
He is a wizard who can control energy; this gives him the ability to
shoot lighting out of his hands. When using such powerful spells he is
prone to injuring himself, which is why his hands are covered in
bandages. Extensive use of his powers has given him brittle, pale skin,
and many burn wounds. His veins also clearly show; they represent the
paths the energy must go through within his body.
drives your character? Goals? Objectives?
The character is highly sensitive to the energy fluctuations in the
world, and always strives to keep a balance. The evil beings attacking
the lands disturb this energy balance. To restore this balance he is
willing to aid the player to get rid of this disturbance.
attributes does he/she use? Weaponry? Tools? What does he/she need those
The lightning he casts out of hands is his main weapon. The bandages he
wears protect him from the damaging his hands too much when using these
spells and cover his burned hands.
lantern hanging from his belt has a special candle in it; the flame of
this candle starts to flicker when there is danger. The glowing crystal
fragments hanging from his chest piece contain the souls of great demons
who have tried to take the artifact. These crystals capture the demons
preventing them from to possessing new hosts.
he/she have relatives/companions?
The guru who trained him has trained more talented individuals, some of
which he knows and some of which he doesn't. Most of them use their
powers to keep the balance and are likely to help each other. Others use
their powers for their own good. After he completed his training he was
sent to this temple to protect the artifact. He has lived there for
years now in solitude.
there any kind of side character?
During the progression of the game he leaves his temple to help the main
characters. During these quests he is likely to run into some other
mages trained by his guru and might even find his old master…
The Design Process
process is a chronological description of the steps taken to get from
the initial idea to the final design. Designing a character is very
iterative, that is why I present this overview in distinct sections per
sketches made revolved around the face of the character. The priority
was to find the personality of this character as quickly as possible. A
3D head was used as a template; this was printed out and faded. The
heads where then drawn on top of these grayed out templates on paper.
The coloring was done in Photoshop (Fig.01).
head was found that was fitting for the design idea, I attempted to
create a matching body. This proved rather difficult since the style
employed for the heads was hard to use for materials like cloth and
metal. Too much reference was used in the design of the clothing, giving
him more of samurai look instead of the magical look I was after. You
can see my design on the left of Fig.02, next to two references images
from the internet.
feedback from peers I decided to restart the process and throw
everything out. This time around the starting image would be created
with a lot less references; instead the focus would lie on first finding
an interesting shape and silhouette. Many quick sketches where produced
in this process. I then picked the most successful sketches and
developed them into slightly more detailed sketches, slowly reducing 12
potential designs down to 1 (Fig.03).
design was very energetic, but it was also very fantastical and lost
some of the believability of the first iteration. This happened because
references had been disregarded in favor of finding the most interesting
shapes possible (Fig.04).
again, I started the design process from scratch, in search of a new
look for this character. Learning from previous mistakes, I used the
best of the two previous approaches for this iteration. During the
previous design iterations the amount of references I'd gathered had
grown. With more appropriate forms memorized it would be easier to do a
new take on this character.
I came to
the conclusion that I needed to increase the character's level of
torture to make him more interesting. All the previous designs had this
notion that he hurts himself while using his lighting casting abilities.
If this would be taken a step further, and I showed the mage after years
of using this spell, it would definitely give a more interesting design.
he is severely damaged by his powers, with burned hands and lower arms
covered by bandages, popping veins carrying the magical energy under his
brittle and pale cold skin, dry lips and blackened eyes being some of
his notable physical characteristics. Besides his physical torture I
decided to sow his leather cap onto his face, integrating the costume
and making for some really interesting details (Fig.05).
initial sketches it was evident the process was finally on the right
track. The shoulder plates allowed for some great detailing, using a lot
of Asian elements to make his origin clear. At the same time the overall
shape was still something unique and original. A lot of elements were
based upon references, but then heavily transformed. The cap, for
example, was based on the hat shown in many Confucius images (Fig.06).
began to search for the forms of the details that would define the
character. This was about taking all the elements out of ambiguity and
giving them a final shape. During this process the 3D base mesh was
used. The male base mesh was adjusted to look like an Asian male and was
used as guide to keep the proportions consistent between sketches
to use colorful robes from the original concept was abandoned, instead
more natural and desaturated colors where used. Many materials have
their natural color and things like the robes are worn down heavily. For
the drawings done on paper the tool of choice switched from pencil to a
combination of fine-liner and COPIC markers (Fig.08).
preparation for the final image, the adjusted 3D base mesh was used
extensively to find the best pose. Cloth studies were done based on lots
of reference photos taken from a life model. This was done to study the
movement of the robe and bandages. After understanding the movement and
shapes of cloth it is easier to recreate it (Fig.09).
Creating the Final Image
image was started by choosing an earlier sketch which had a pose that
was meaningful to the character. The chosen sketch was based on one of
the 3D poses. Instead of choosing an action pose where he uses his
lighting skill, I chose a more serene pose because it expressed his
personality more. He doesn't really enjoy fighting or using his powers,
he uses them only when necessary.
normal state he is a very serene man who is always deep in thought, and
this pose expresses that serenity. The sketch was used as a starting
point for the final image; since the tonal values in the sketch
suggested the coloring of the cloth and not the lighting, the 3D model
was used for experimenting with the lighting.
elements such as the crownpiece were modeled in 3D, instead of being
adapted from the sketch; this was to emphasize their geometrical nature.
The 3D render was used as guide for the painting and lighting process
entire final image was done at 600dpi I encountered some problems during
rendering, Maya crashed repeatedly attempting to render in such high
resolution. In the end the image was divided into smaller 4k renders and
assembled in Photoshop.
lighting setup used only grayscale lights to indicate the tonal range of
the image, then a second lighting setup was used to suggest the color of
the lights. The main tonal value goes from up to down, but the color
value goes across the image, yellow from the left side and blue from the
right side (Fig.11).
elements were then pasted on top of the sketch. Besides that, many
details on the sketch were replaced by sketches made for that specific
detail, as you can see in Fig.12. Some elements such as the 3D hands and
face completely replaced the sketch. At this stage the lighting was
painted on the sketch using the 3D models as reference.
tonal values were in the ballpark, I began coloring the image using the
Colorize brush and really saturated colors. In the end the lighting
would be quite blue and desaturated and the cloths old, but it helped to
start out with vibrant saturated colors and gradually wear them down
during the creation of the image.
basic colors were laid down, it was time to apply some texture and
detail. For this a lot of photos were gathered from the weirdest
sources. A good example is the metal on the chest; the texture is a
photo taken from a used tea egg. All the fabrics also used heavy photo
detail. Sometimes it helps to put things out of scale; for the leather
cap, photographs of worn leather close-ups were used. By using the
pattern much bigger than it actually is, it will create a more textural
worn effect (Fig.13).
photographs were used in conjunction with all kinds of blending modes
inside of Photoshop. Fig.14 shows some "before and after” shots to
demonstrate the amount of impact the texture detail had on the final
forms and color were described properly, it was time for the lighting.
The goal was to emulate the lighting used on a head study I'd done
earlier, which I felt was very successful. As you can see in Fig.15, I
experimented a lot with smoke, light, hue and overall lightness and
contrast. In addition to that there were also experiments with other
things such as the glow of the crystals, light emitting from the lamp
and even some lightning to show off his magical capabilities. In the end
I realized that subtlety was the key.
lighting was finished, I used the Liquefy tool to fix any weird
proportions I noticed during the creation of the image. It was not
efficient to do this earlier because it would have made my entire
library of layer masks useless. So in order to keep working efficiently
this step was postponed until the end.
power of 600dpi really came into play. The Liquefy tool created some
distortion, but because the image is never viewed bigger than 50%, this
distortion will never be noticed. And if downscaled, the image's
distortion will be free. The only downside of working with such a large
file is the big memory consumption and the occasional lag.
that needed to be addressed earlier was the feet of the character, as
they seemed a bit awkward. I used the Liquefy tool to correct a lot of
the problems, which meant existing work could be reused instead of
thrown away. A render of the leg and foot with a special texture and
various paint-over's was used to find the correct shape. After that it
was just a matter of liquefying the image and repainting the shading
shows the resulting final image. This image will be the main image used
as reference during the modeling of this character. As I said at the
start, the goal was not to create a beautiful piece of art, but to
create something that can be referenced throughout the modeling process
as a form of reference and inspiration.
Overview of Sketches and Other Images
sketches and images made during this process are presented in
chronological order. Notice that after the final image, many more
sketches were made. These were sketches of small details that were
quickly drawn-out on paper while working on the 3D model. It is a lot
more efficient to try out variations on paper, then to model multiple
variations and choose in 3D (Fig.18).
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